Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tribeca Report No. 2

A nice, even, mix at Tribeca today: a documentary, an American independent, a British thriller, and an Irish drama—and today, non-fiction is the big winner. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundeberg’s extraordinary documentary profile Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work spends a full year with the comic legend, an artist struggling with her own relevance, her vulnerability, and her public image. Their access to Rivers was apparently unlimited, and the Botox-and-all portrait that emerges is furiously funny, startlingly candid, and fast-paced without being shallow. It’s a sharp, terrific doc, a film that made me rethink my indifference towards its subject, and pulled me in close to her odd, prickly world.

Carmel Winters’ Snap isn’t quite so audience-friendly; there’s a jagged, jittery uneasiness to the picture, which is an unblinking look at everyday evil slowly uncoiling, in ways both expected and inexplicable. It is permeated by a sense of awful things about to happen—or to be revealed. Winters, an Irish playwright making her film debut, shows a natural gift for cinema; Snap is a dire, upsetting picture, but it is done with unquestionable skill and visceral power, and it got under my skin in a manner I wasn’t fully prepared for.

J Blakeson’s The Disappearance of Alice Creed begins so confidently—the first act of the picture is lean, mean, tight-fisted filmmaking, briskly paced and cold-blooded—that you figure they can’t keep it up, and you’re right. The brute force of those opening sections soon gives way to a series of too-clever twists and flashy turns, tamping down the considerable tension in favor of narrative panache. But it’s still worth seeing; there are some terrific set pieces, and the trio of performers (the only three people in the movie) are evenly matched and sharply directed.

And then there’s Oliveier Dahan’s My Own Love Song, a creaky, cliché-ridden road movie with Renee Zellweger and Forest Whitaker, who have both seen better days and better films than this. Dahan’s formulaic, tin-eared script is a real clanger, and his showy direction only highlights the emptiness of the pat struggles and trumped-up conflicts. There’s not a surprise in it; it’s all re-heated leftovers from other, better pictures.

Tune in tomorrow—I’ll be reviewing the sports doc Two Escobars, Ed Burns’ Nice Guy Johnny, the falcon-smuggling (!) documentary Feathered Cocaine, and the lyrical Irish family drama My Brothers.

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